Last year rumbling had started in the depths of the internet that Bungie (known by anyone that can hold a controller as the creators behind the Halo franchise) was about ready to show off their brand new game, a game which would define the studio for the next several years (decade?) based on an exclusive publishing deal with Activision. Leaks started showing up around the web, and come E3 2013 Destiny had been revealed. For the next year we heard little on the game. A few descriptions of classes here and there, a couple of screenshots from time to time, but little in the way of major updates. At E3 2014 Bungie showed up in full-force and finally open the doors to (a small piece of) Destiny. Along with the blow-out came news that a PlayStation 4-exclusive alpha was going to run for the weekend following E3. The alpha arrived, I jumped in, and these are my first impressions.
Destiny feels like an MMO. Well, I have to explain here. It’s not like you’re logging into Destiny and getting World of Warcraft, but you do get that overall feel of playing through zones, collecting loot, seeing other random players running amok, and exploring to your hearts content. The alpha featured one main “level” (the one that had been shown off a few times in demos) Old Russia. It also featured the hub world where players could buy and sell goods, ships, weapons, and do all sorts of things on mission downtime, and a few competitive (PvP) multiplayer levels. The Old Russia area is massive and featured a handful of things to do. What impressed me about this alpha is just how well everything ran. I ran into very few bugs when running around Russia and never had any crashes. This could be because Bungie is using an older press build as the alpha, but regardless I was happy it worked. Old Russia gives you a chance to do one of the main story missions, explore, or even do a few of the big multi-fireteam missions that have you taking out big bosses (the multiple-legged robot shown in past previews). Exploring the world was a bit basic, with a lower amount of loot than I’d like, but it was fun to see one of the new worlds Bungie created post-Halo. Mobs of enemies roamed around (and re-spawned a bit too fast) and there were a few collectibles to find if you looked hard.
The most fun I had in the alpha, though, was playing with friends. The first thing I did upon logging in was to bring up the beautiful menu system and find one of my friends playing and drop right into their game seamlessly. Bungie has always been at the forefront of matchmaking (heck, they helped make it a staple on consoles) so it’s great to see how well drop-in/drop-out works in Destiny. A loading screen later I was in my friend’s game killing enemies with him as we trudged though the first story mission to take on some kind of wizard boss. The only irks I had with the system while playing co-op were things like level differences. If your friend is a higher level than you, you basically can’t damage the enemies that spawn in his/her game. Also if you die, sometimes you can get spawned a ways back in the level and you’ll have to fight every enemy (because they also re-spawned) again, this time by yourself. That makes co-op tricky, but if you play well and generally are at the same level it’s a lot of fun. As for the story parts, everyone has been bashing Peter Dinklage, the actor who plays your companion A.I., because of his under-emphasized delivery (which could have been at Bungie’s direction), but I don’t think it’s as bad as people are stating. It could use a filter over top, or maybe a bit more excitement, but hearing the voice of Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones coming through my speakers made me stop and listen every time he spoke. Aside from that controversy the story mission played of fine, with not much story to it. I assume Bungie is keeping most of that close to the chest.
Overall the Destiny alpha gave me my first real look at the game and world Bungie is creating. The game feels great, like a mix of Halo and Borderlands, but still has some kinks to be worked out (more loot, longer enemy respawn timers, shorter grenade re-use timers, co-op tweaks, and MORE LOOT). I’ll be very interested to see how the public beta works when it launches July 17th on PlayStation, and to see what (if any) changes were made from alpha testing. Destiny seems to be shaping up well, especially for the crowd of gamers who love games like Borderlands, Halo, and certain MMOs, so as long as Bungie continues to take feedback from fans and testers I think the game will turn out well this Fall.